The Eilu vaEilu Paradox

The notion of eilu va’eilu is taken by many to be quite literal — that two conflicting halachic opinions can both be equally correct, both equally truly representing the Will of G-d. This is a product of halakhah being a mapping from Hashem’s infinite Thought to human reality and/or His leaving us a process that has room for our creativity because that creativity is itself part of the redemptive process, etc…

Here’s the paradox… Say camp A holds that some limit X is involate, that people who deny X believe in heresy (albeit may not have the laws of a heretic). Camp B denies X, but has no similar red line that camp A crossed.

B is in the position of believing eilu va’eilu includes the truth of A’s approach to Torah — including the belief that B’s own approach isn’t true (isn’t within eilu va’eilu)? Paradox!

This comic presented a nice mashal, if you have some knowledge, even on the popularization level, of some of the odder hypotheses in physics:

Abstruse Goose: Many World Problem

14 thoughts on “The Eilu vaEilu Paradox

  1. The cartoon doesn’t work. As soon as the guy on the left appeared, his counterpart on the right should have been intellectually honest and acknowledged that there are multiple universes which means the scientific understanding in that parallel universe had been incorrect.
    An ability to recognize that one’s approach is not the only one and that there are different proper approaches nullifies the paradox which only exists if people are stubborn that it’s their way or the highway.

  2. Garnel,

    Would you say the same when camp A is the Conservative Movement? They think we and they are both valid, we do not consider Cons. Judaism to be within the multiverse of Torah.

    How is that logically any different when you are the person in the greater Torah-and camps (TIDE, TuM, etc… but not “and nebich you have to make a parnasah”, I’m talking ideals). Camp B is the Torah-only people who believe our very willingness to embrace an “and” means compromise and is thus not legitimate.

    Does this mean the Torah-only camp can’t be within your eilu va’eilu because including it means paradox?

    Does it mean you expect the Torah-only camp to be more open minded toward us, despite their having objectively reasoned hashkafah in support, than you are willing to be toward C? You can’t say “but lemaaseh, C isn’t Torah loyal and we are” because leshitasam, we aren’t!

  3. “B is in the position of believing eilu va’eilu includes the truth of A’s approach to Torah — including the belief that B’s own approach isn’t true (isn’t within eilu va’eilu)? Paradox!”

    In practice, B would be inwardly unwilling to carry his belief in the absolute truth of eilu va’eilu to this extreme.

  4. Rav Micha, all good questions but I see it this way: in the cartoon there is an objective truth. The fact that person A is standing next to his counterpart in the parallel universe proves that that the “only one universe theory” is objectively wrong.
    So if person A is the Conservatives (and actually I thought you were hinting they were the LWMO’s) then the discussion is quite different. There is an objective halachic methodology. If a Conservative walks up to an Orthodox rabbi and explains why women can be counted to minyan then the Orthodox rabbi can simply reach back to the “objective” reality of halacha and shoot his argument down.
    On the other hand, if a MO rav points out to an UO rav that denim skirts are perfectly acceptable attire for a bas Yisroel, or in an even more extreme situation, if an UO rav tells a Charediban woman that it is permitted to show one’s face in public, when then the cartoon makes no sense.

  5. I think you’re likening Conservativism to something that doesn’t even fit the meta-rules that all universes in the multiverse must follow. Assuming there is some set of “objective reality of physical meta-laws” across all universes in the multiverse.

    If you break the laws into universal vs multiversal, I am not sure there is a parallel in Judaism. The rules of pesaq are applied to pesaq itself. E.g. it is a matter of pesaq as to whether all else being equal (e.g. the same author) we follow the code over the teshuvah, the teshuvah over the code, whichever was written last. It is a matter of pesaq when we say halakhah kebara’ei, and when we say there was a break between eras and this basa’i is an acharon trying to dispute a rishon.

    The real thing that makes it easy to distinguish the two cases is that C requires intellectual dishonesty, half-quoting of sources, etc…) to support its own conclusion, and lacks even internal consistency. Whereas an open minded assessment by a chareidi wouldn’t say the same of MO. But that’s tangential.

    And in any case the cartoon fails, because he is saying that within the laws of physics of his universe, the multiverse’s metalaws are different. That claim itself breaks the teir system.

    Still, I’m glad I posted it. Generated a good (if so far short) conversation.

    Garnel, could you please email me? I have a personal question.

  6. Except for the exclusivity aspect, “eilu v’eilu” would refer to the idea itself, not whether believing it or denying is beyond the pale.

    There can be value and legitimacy in Torah-only approaches and in Torah-im approaches, and those aspects can be equally true (each being more appropriate for some, less for others). Adding the “and if you don’t agree you’re a kofer” to the equation does not detract from the “eilu v’eilu”ness of the basic idea.

    Trying to fit “it’s heresy/no it’s not” into this discussion is like saying G-d can’t do everything because He can’t create a rock too heavy to pick up. The “everything” G-d can do does not, and cannot, include limiting Him; “eilu v’eilu” can’t mean it both is universally acceptable or not universally acceptable.

    • RDK, You have me totally lost.

      “Eilu va’eilu divrei E-lokim Chaim” can only refer to the “value and legitimacy” (as you put it) of actual Divrei E-lokim Chaim (DEC). We would all agree it doesn’t mean that Orthodox, Conservative and Reform are “eilu va’eilu”. I think we would also agree that if the Igeros Moshe and the Yabia Omer took different positions, “eilu va’eilu” would apply So there is a “pale” within which we do say “eilu va’eilu”, I hold this way but the other is legitimate. And a “beyond the pale” for which I can’t think of the other side as a “va’eilu”.

      (Actually, given how Beis Hillel would quote Beis Shammai, perhaps I should consider it as my opinion that’s “va’eilu”, mentioned second by the bas qol, and the other one that’s the “eilu”.)

      More than that, the “idea itself” could be legitimately considered DEC, even after the halachic process has moved on so far that no one can legitimately follow it. You can study Rav Yosi haGelili’s or R’ Elazar’s opinions, but you can’t eat a cheese turkey-burger nor can your mohel drive to a beris. No even the original case — be machmir like Beis Shammai.

      (I think I have to take “value” out of the equation. Something that approximates Torah could be illegitimate, but still have some, much smaller, value. For that matter, I can say C has value — its adherents at least say within the people, know that there is a Shabbos, don’t violate kashrus as often. On the other hand, I hold one way over the other. It could be because I feel it has more value for me personally; it could also be because I feel it has more value for people in our culture and zeitgeist. In the latter case, I can believe an idea is DEC but also of lesser value. Value therefore becomes a weak indicator of whether I believe something is DEC.)

      The thing I was noting is that because the topics of how to pasqen and what are kefirah, apiqursus and meenus are themselves subject to machloqes, you can end up in a situation where A is willing to call B’s position va’eilu, and B is not able to do so for A’s position. They hold different positions about what range of “ideas I don’t hold like” could legitimately be justified by talmud Torah. And thus the potential for paradox.

      Many in the Torah uMadda camp find value and legitimate in Torah-only approaches. (Unfortunately, not all.) Many in the Torah-only camp consider TuM to be compromise, illegitimate, not a potential eilu va’eilu.

      Which means that the people in the first group find value and legitimacy in an ideology that says their own position is illegitimate?

      It’s this paradox that drives Mod-O paranoia about getting sufficient respect from the chareidi camp. For example, the big to-do over the JO’s obituary for the Rav. Rather than the “glass is half full”, the Agudah finally carried a story praising RYBS, it became a source of anger — the praise was too weak. Mod-O is looking for legitimization from people who can’t give it — not just want to give it, but leshitasam can’t lehalakhah say that studying mada is part of the ideal, that we should engage the world as much as allowed, etc… (Admittedly that’s not all of the Agudah, but it is a shitah, and the Agudah does have to live with the gedolim on the moestzes who do hold that way.) It requires a self-confidence the left doesn’t have, and why we/they don’t is worth exploring.

      • RMB: We would all agree it doesn’t mean that Orthodox, Conservative and Reform are “eilu va’eilu”.
        I don’t think the label matters; only the specific issue. For example, whether using electricity constitutes a “melacha” could be “eilu v’eilu” even if one of the positions was taken by a non-Orthodox movement. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to use it on Shabbos, but that the thought process behind it could have been among the possible outcomes discussed on Mt. Sinai.
        Similarly, any Shabbos observance, or kashrus observance, that is enhanced because the person is affiliated with CJ is not value-less. Take away the label, and tell me if it has any spiritual value or not. Tell me if the thought process behind it has any validity.

        RMB: The thing I was noting is that because the topics of how to pasqen and what are kefirah, apiqursus and meenus are themselves subject to machloqes, you can end up in a situation where A is willing to call B’s position va’eilu, and B is not able to do so for A’s position.
        That’s called disagreement, not paradox.

        RMB: Which means that the people in the first group find value and legitimacy in an ideology that says their own position is illegitimate?
        The “value and legitimacy” they find in the other position does not include the “appendage” that it is the only legitimate opinion.

        RMB: It requires a self-confidence the left doesn’t have, and why we/they don’t is worth exploring.
        I fully agree; it is a self-esteem issue. I don’t think we can improve the self-confidence of an ideology. It has to be done on a person-to-person basis. And can only be accomplished by increasing the level of knowledge, and ownership of that knowledge (rather than a superficial understanding of the issue) of individuals. (Isn’t that what the AishDas Society tries to do? ;) )

  7. RDK: Still lost here.

    There is a machloqes on one basic point. (1) Torah only vs (2) Torah-and.

    Torah only adherents could believe any of the following:
    a- Torah-only is the derekh that works best for me
    b- … works best in our day and age
    c- … works best
    d- It is the derekh endorsed by the halachic process
    e- It is the only approach consistent with the Torah.

    1d and 1e are held by large groups of people.
    And by parallel subtyping, shitos 2a-2c are also held by large groups of people.

    BUT, someone who believe in 2a-c is expected to believe that 1d-e are eilu va’eilu, even when they are in effect endorsing the validity of a position (on one specific idea) that says their own position (on that same one specific idea) is not valid.

    • They are accepting the other position regarding “Torah-only” as a valid approach, not that it has to be the only approach. The aspect of a “Torah-only” approach that insists “Torah-and” has no validity, and does not fall within the realm of “eilu v’eilu” is not being accepted as being within the realm of “eilu v’eilu,” hence no paradox.

          • Only one side has the word “only” built into its position.

            IOW, if you believe that following the Torah is to the exclusion of integration with something else, than your very position is that the other side isn’t eilu va’eilu.

            This is specific to this (and similar) case, where the levels (my position vs my beliefs about the range of positions) because it is a machloqes about the nature of following the Torah.

        • RMB: Only one side has the word “only” built into its position.

          No, both sides do. One side “only” has the “only” positon, while the other has the “only” position as one of its “eilu v’eilu” possibilities.

          If that side can say “Torah-only” is a valid possibility but not the only valid possibility, the “Torah only” aspect of the “only Torah-only” side does not need “palginan dibura” any more than the “not Torah-only” perspective.

And your thoughts...?